Conclusion to Part 3
Gary North – November 18, 2021
A. Historical Structure and Facts
Christian historiography must begin with presuppositions about the nature of history. This means these issues: creation and God’s providence, the image of God in man, biblical law, sanctions in history, and eschatology. A Christian historian should have clear ideas about how the Bible addresses each of these five issues. He should also have decided how to integrate all five points into a coherent theory of history.
He must assume that God has imputed meaning to all of history in terms of the five points. God’s memory has flawlessly connected the historical dots retroactively because He connected the dots originally. His decree is sovereign. He makes no mistakes. He is omniscient. Nothing that has ever happened in history has been a surprise to Him. First, this is the biblical solution to the problem of the source of coherence in history. Second, this confession is the solution to the problem of identifying the source of meaning in history. Third, it is the solution to the problem of historiography.
Because God is omniscient, and because His providence holds the universe together, a Christian historian does not need to know everything exhaustively in order to know anything accurately. His goal is to think God’s thoughts after Him. He can do this because he has the mind of Christ. He also has access to the Holy Spirit, who guides Christians into all truth. That was what Jesus specifically said that the Holy Spirit would do. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit has this task: to bring all things to our remembrance.
Trust in the covenantal structure of history, trust in God’s biblical revelation of this structure, and trust in the reliability of the connection between God’s mind and covenant-keepers’ minds are just the beginning. Then the hard work begins. The Christian historian must research an existing historical narrative in terms of this question: “Does this narrative reflect the five points of the structure of history?” Historical narratives must be structured in terms of the five points. Historiography must faithfully reflect history. In his quest for a topic to write about or teach, he should look for accepted narratives that are not consistent with the five points. These are candidates for Christian revisionism. The correct goal of Christian historical revisionism is to revise humanism’s narratives so that they reflect the coherence between the biblical structure of history and the interpretations of the past. A Christian historian should demonstrate the biblical structure history by means of the historical facts. Historical facts are not autonomous. His theory of history is not autonomous. It is covenantal.
The Holy Spirit can and does intervene in order to assist Christian historians to do their work more effectively. God does not expect Christian historians to be omniscient. He understands that they need assistance in order to do their work faithfully. The humanist historian has no faith in such a personalized source of truth. This has always been true of humanist historians. Classical Greeks believed in minor divinities known as the muses. One of the muses was memory. But the muses confined themselves to poetry. They were of no assistance to would-be historians. That is why there were so few historians in classical Greece. Basically, there were only two of note: Herodotus and Thucydides. Humanistic historians have long regarded them as the originators of historiography. That is because they do not take Moses and the prophets seriously. Moses and the prophets appealed to God as the source of memory. Herodotus and Thucydides did not.
B. Humanism Is Flying Blind
What I am saying here may seem difficult to believe for someone who has not received graduate-level training in historiography. I am saying that courses in epistemology have always been nonexistent. There have been no courses on foundations of historical knowledge, beginning with Kantian philosophy as applied to historical understanding. There have been courses on methodology: research and writing skills. There have been books on competing philosophies of history. These are usually written by philosophers. Such courses are not taught in history departments. They should be taught in every history department in every Christian college. Such a course could use this book as a textbook: Historiography Secular and Religious, by Gordon Clark. It was published in 1971. Clark was a Christian philosopher. But there is a major problem with his book. He never wrote a history book, other than a history of philosophy. He had no experience in applying a biblical philosophy of history to specific historical questions. He never presented a biblical philosophy of history. The book is devoted to surveying previous historians and their philosophies of history.
This is the same problem that R. G. Collingwood had. He was a sophisticated philosopher. He wrote to impress philosophers. He did not write for the benefit of historians. He never wrote a history book. When I first read the book over half a century ago, it was clear to me that he had no idea of the relationship between the actual methodologies of history and the philosophical issues he was raising. Most of his book is incomprehensible to historians. I am a competent historian. I find page after page of his book irrelevant to the question at hand. What is the question? “How should the historian actually do his day-to-day work in terms of Collingwood’s philosophy of history?” You cannot find the answer to this question by reading Collingwood.
Historians have long been silent with respect to their personal philosophies of history. David Hume wrote a detailed history of England. He also wrote a great deal on philosophy. But he never wrote a book on how his philosophy governed his historiography. He never wrote a book on the philosophy of history. It was as if his work as an historian and his work as a philosopher were in hermetically sealed-off partitions of his brain.
This astounding naïveté of practicing historians regarding the structure of history, which most of them deny — the connection between the historian’s methodology and this structure of history, and the principles governing the production of historical narratives — is remarkable. These issues are not publicly discussed because most historians are unaware of these interconnected problems, and those few who are aware of them have not been able offer coherent explanations of how these three aspects of the historian’s task can and should be integrated.
There is an old phrase: “He made it up as he went along.” This is exactly what humanist historians have been doing ever since Herodotus. They have some vague sense of what they are doing, and some of them are quite good at it. But they cannot explain to anyone else’s satisfaction how they do it. They also seem incapable of explaining to non-historians why they do it. Some historians do it out of curiosity. Some of them do it out of a desire to change the world, although not that many of them are this dedicated. Marxists were. Some of them do it because they get paid to do it. Some of them do it because they are good entertainers. They like to tell stories. But when asked why teaching history is their calling, meaning the most important thing they can do in which they would be most difficult to replace, they flounder. They offer no clear answers. They have devoted their lives to work that they have trouble justifying to themselves or to others. We are back to the statements that leading historians made in the presence of Prof. Singer in 1970. I quoted these statements in the Preface. Historians really do not think that history has any identifiable meaning.
If you have doubts about your ability to perform as a Christian historian, either as a reader or a teacher, keep this fact in mind. You are now better prepared theologically, philosophically, and methodologically in the field of historiography than any humanist historian is. He may be a better writer. He is familiar with far more documents than you are. He may have a knack for connecting historical dots that you do not possess. But he cannot explain why his dot-connecting procedure is correct in terms of an overall philosophy of history. He has no overall philosophy of history. He does not accept the biblical philosophy of history. He does not believe there is a biblical structure to history. But, in arguing against the Bible’s view of history, he is in the unenviable position of someone who is trying to beat something with nothing.
Van Til made this point regarding humanism in every area of scholarship. He argued that epistemological blindness is the universal condition of humanist scholars. Rejecting the God of the Bible, and rejecting the Bible as a reliable testimony to this God, humanists have no coherent alternative to offer to explain the coherence of the world and to explain their ability to perceive this coherence. Van Til devoted six pages in a course syllabus to refuting Collingwood. What I have done in this book is to confirm in the field of history and historiography what Van Til recognized no later than 1962. It has taken me almost six decades to catch up with where Van Til was in 1962. I apologize for the delay. But better late than never.